Praying for the Terminally Ill
For a seminary professor with a terminal illness,
the phrase “Thy will be done” can provoke serious theological reflection. Writing a month before
his death, Rod Decker and his wife, Linda, offer
spiritual insight and practical advice on the power
When praying for the terminally ill, believers hold two ideas
1. God can choose to heal through medical means (and
He often does). This appears to be His normal method
of bringing healing. But it is also true that God can heal
supernaturally apart from such human means. When He
works in this way, we call it a miracle.
2. Got is not obligated to heal. Just because God can heal
in either of these two ways does not mean He is obligated
to do either. He may choose either means of healing, or
He may not choose to heal at all—even if many Christians pray asking Him to do so.
God is not a cosmic vending machine waiting for us to put
in the right change. Instead we trust the good, sovereign Creator of the universe to do what He knows best.
So how does one pray for someone who appears to be
securely in the incurable column, someone whom it does not
appear that God is going to heal? We can’t know that for sure,
of course, but when the terminal condition persists, doctors appear to be unable to do anything more, and God does
not show any indication of intervening, then what? You may
continue to pray, hoping that God will heal at the last minute,
or you might consider praying for that person’s physical and
spiritual needs as they face death. Or both.
Here are a few suggestions, not in any particular order.
• Pray that God will give the person patience in the little
frustrations. For anyone dealing with terminal disease, life
gets complicated. That person faces lots of little challenges
that others seldom realize. These range from the side effects
of medications to activities that just take a lot longer to do.
• Pray for strength. Some things can’t be done anymore
because the person is too weak.
• Pray that the person will remain strong spiritually, not give
up on God.
• Pray for the person’s family, especially the primary caregiver
(usually the spouse). The caregiver carries a disproportionate share of the load around the house, often 24-7. The
patient’s spouse may find coping with the illness and its
ramifications even more difficult than the patient does.
• Pray not only for the person and the caregiver or spouse,
but with them. They may not be able to attend church and
may miss receiving regular spiritual refreshment.
• Pray that God will lift up others who can begin to take over
some of the patient’s ministries at church.
• Look for things you can do that are beyond the person’s
strength. Don’t just ask about helping, but actually do
something. Even if it seems as minor as holding open that
heavy door at church or carrying something inside for
them. Or shining a pair of dress shoes! (It’s amazing how
heavy such things seem to be!)
• If you are aware of a physical need that you can’t meet, talk
to one of the deacons and make them aware of the need.
• If you really want to help, make a specific offer and set a time
when you will do it. Offering to “help if you ever need anything” doesn’t mean much, because you’re not standing there
when the person needs “anything”—and the patient won’t
likely call you and wait for you to arrive!
by ROD and LINDA DECKER